The Tourist Guide to Dystopia

January 25, 2018

 

Welcome to Dystopia. Please check your belongings before departing, make sure your visa is valid and don't speak to strangers.

 

The English Oxford dictionary defines this land as "an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one." Elsewhere it's labelled as "a society characterized by poverty, squalor or oppression" or a "dark, nightmare world".

 

It must be a depressing location, so why do people go to this literary destination? 

 

Like any forbidden land, or on ancient maps the warning, "Here be dragons" - we want to find out what's it's like. What do we need to watch out for? Why is it so bad? And, significantly, will my world ever become like this? 

 

Writers of dystopian fiction have used the genre to convey messages, even warnings. Ray Bradbury's 'Farenheit 451' is a novel which resonates in our world today, where books are burned that communicate messages banned by those 'in charge'. For me, the most profound example is John Wyndham's 'The Chrysalids', set long after a nuclear holocaust and a product of its 1950s context. Yet it is just as relevant today because its message is that Change is good, it's necessary. Look at the political movements currently trying to capture a perceived 'golden' past (Brexit, Make America Great Again) and you can see Wyndham's message resonating there.

 

In my trilogy, 'The Knights' Protocol', water levels have risen dramatically. It's led to huge social upheaval, leaving millions homeless. 

 

I used this pretext to exaggerate the pressures we see in our world now. It triggers massive migration, turning neighbours into refugees. Blame is irrationally apportioned so that certain groups suffer. Crime increases, slavery becomes rife because money is valueless. A grim picture.

 

 But the point of a dystopian novel is to show how humanity can survive when we apply the best of our values, when we work collectively, rather than individually. We have the potential to create utopia - but we can't do it on our own. We have to manage it together. That takes courage, sacrifice sometimes, a willingness to cooperate and compromise. These qualities can be sacrificed if we're not careful. Dystopian novels warn of that need to be aware, to avoid complacency. 

 

So, visit Dystopia. Like all forms of travel, let it broaden the mind. Return home and make sure the same thing doesn't happen there.

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